YES is feeling supremely self-confident (Photo: Reuters).
How will it go tomorrow? Nobody really knows. Both campaigns are supremely confident, both can point to polls that show them narrowly ahead. Both have “invisible advantages”. YES probably enjoys the support of thousands of first time voters; NO thinks that it leads comfortably on early postal votes. The NO people are satisfied that they have a “quiet” vote motivated by reason rather than passion, and that with every new outrage perpetrated by YES extremists they gain yet more silent support. One YES person put it to me that the people who tend to break toward NO are the old and English-born.
Personally, I think that YES might indeed enjoy a slight edge. Due to the following factors:
1. Enthusiasm. Get off the train at Glasgow and you’re struck by the presence of the YES vote: posters, stickers, t-shirts, campaigners. They have a much better operation and seem better at exciting their own people. Things are quieter in Edinburgh, but the difference is only a matter of degree. In my first 24 hours in Glasgow, I counted just one NO poster. Although, to be fair, this might be a reflection of the ability of YES to intimidate people into silence. One voter who works in a bank told me that he held off putting up a NAW poster in his window for fear of attracting vandalism. Others have put up YES posters just to keep the wretched canvassers away.
2. Registration. Historically, turnout in Scottish elections is low – in about the mid-sixties. But this time around some 97 per cent of Scots have registered. Now, why would someone go to the effort to register for the first time? To vote negatively (NO) or to vote positively (YES)? A local journalist put it to me that many of those new voters will be working-class Scots motivated by national passion. It’s unlikely that they’re fired up by David Cameron, Ed Miliband or the prospect of Devo-Max (which sounds like a reunited Eighties pop group).
3. Gerrymandering. Salmond did a good job of making sure he had an electorate favourable to YES. So, 16-year-olds suddenly appear on the register – and youth leans towards independence. It also means that natural-born Scots who moved to England can’t vote, but foreign-born people who moved to Scotland can. Obviously, Scots who migrated throughout the UK for work are more likely to be for NO.
4. The defection of voters from NO to YES. The movement in the polls appears to have come not just from “undecided” to YES but from NO to YES – which implies that YES has the capacity not only to motivate its own people, or to squeeze undecideds, but also to win converts.
5. The NO campaign’s grinding negativity and inability to look anything other than establishment orientated. The message coming out of the NO campaign has been far too focused on what Scotland is incapable of doing by itself (an insult to regional pride) and far too obsessed with wheeling out big international names to make its cause (Bill Clinton? Seriously?!). What’s striking talking to YES people is how brilliantly they’ve conjured up an automatic “Well, they would say that wouldn’t they?” response to every NO criticism. And they’ve played the politics of identity far better than the NO folks: articulating a clear sense of what Scottishness is (socialism in tartan) and challenging everyone to vote on the basis of love of country. As a result, their vote feels more tribal and energized.
6. The emotional logic of voting YES. If you vote YES, it’s obvious what you’re voting for: the birth of a new nation. If you vote NO, it’s less obvious what you’re defending – jobs and a stable currency, maybe, but what emotionally is the case for NO? Few pro-Union politicians have articulated it with convincing passion.
Again, none of this is certain. We're at the point in the election campaign when everything suddenly stops and stands mysteriously still – like being at the centre of a tornado. You don't know what'll happen next. You're helpless. It's exciting but also a little frightening – especially for those of us who love the Union.